Clegg: Government not 'sleazy'

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionNick Clegg talks to the BBC's Nick Robinson

Getting in touch is what any political leader has to do.

Not least when people feel Westminster is a million miles away from the world they live in.

On a visit to the Bradford HQ of Morrisons, Nick Clegg heard about the sacrifices some customers are making to afford their weekly shop.

The company's "head of insight" told the Lib Dem leader it was "not unusual for me to cry at the end of a focus group" she carried out with the supermarket's customers.

Some can't afford to repair their kids' clothes and one in five Morrisons mums told the company's researchers that they miss out on a meal a day to provide for their children. On his next election stop in Cardiff I interviewed the Lib Dem leader. You can watch the full interview here shortly.

Q: Were you shocked by what you heard?

Clegg: Yes of course I think you'd have to be made of stone not to be shocked when you hear of the terrible pressures that some families are under. It's one of the many reasons why I've been so vocal for a long time now about making our tax system fairer, taking lots of people out of paying any income tax who are on low pay, giving over 20 million basic rate taxpayers several hundred pounds of tax relief by raising the allowance - the point at which they have to start paying income tax.

Nick Clegg told me that the coalition's economic policy remains the right one and defends the Budget.

Q: Is your political message to the country though, this is our budget we're comfortable with the values in this Budget. Or are you saying we're a small coalition party, we had to go along with all sorts of things we don't like?

Clegg: I think sort of running away from decisions - I've never done that - my critics might want me to do that. I never run away from difficult decisions and I make no apology whatsoever for a Budget whose centrepiece reform is an undeniably Liberal Democrat one, a £3.5bn tax cut for over 20 million people.

Q: Why didn't you block as the Liberal Democrats a cut in taxes for the rich?

Clegg: Look, when it became obvious that there was a push to change the upper rate on tax, all I said was look, at the end of the day, I'm not fixated - no one should be fixated about one particular rate, particularly one which doesn't appear to raise very much money - as long as the people at the top pay more overall. And that I'm absolutely convinced they are doing of course because whether we are putting more taxation on when you buy a very very high value property, or closing the loopholes in the very aggressive way that we are - the very rich will pay as I say five times more than they're getting back from this change. And crucially the winners, the big winners are those two million people on low pay who from next April won't pay any income tax whatsoever for the first time.

The deputy prime minister wants to see a renewed push on getting credit to businesses - perhaps by bypassing the banks - and getting infrastructure plans off the drawing board.

With elections looming next week he does, though, want to distinguish himself from his Conservative partners who are now under pressure over their links to the Murdochs (you can see his answers about Jeremy Hunt in my previous post).

Q. Is this a sleazy government?

Clegg: No I don't believe it's a sleazy government.

Q. You know why people ask it though?

Clegg: Of course I accept that when you get a controversy in politics you get a lot of people attaching labels to governments, I remain of the view that this is an unusual government - because it's a coalition government that doesn't happen very often. And I also accept that we're doing very controversial, and in some cases downright unpopular, things

Q. But are there times when you look around the Cabinet table when there are revelations on the dealings with Murdoch or party funding and think I don't much like being in government with these people?

Clegg: I am very proud of the fact that unlike other parties, big parties in British politics, the Liberal Democrats have never and will never be in anyone's pocket. We're not here to you know parrot the interests of any particular vested interest. We're here for the whole country. And I think one of the things that separates the Liberal Democrats from other parties in British politics - always has been and always will be - is how fiercely independent we are and that we're in nobody's pockets,

Q: Aren't you in the Tories' pocket and that's why you're doing so badly in the polls?

Clegg: I think the Liberal Democrats, if we'd entered a coalition with Labour - we would have been you know fiercely denounced by people who absolutely can't stomach the Labour Party. And they would have said you've betrayed us by going into coalition with Labour in the same way that people in the other wings of politics say we shouldn't have gone into coalition with the Conservatives. What I say to them over and over again, is firstly no-one won the election so we had to do something. And secondly that the country is still in a fragile economic state, we still know that. I make no apology ... I'm very proud of the fact that Liberal Democrats collectively took a big brave decision to say you know what we're going to do, we're going to play our bit to put things right for this country, so we have a better country for our children in the future.

Mr Clegg was speaking to me at Cardiff City's football ground. We got there by walking under a "Backing the Blues" banner which is a neat reminder of his election dilemma - how to demonstrate that the coalition partners are aiming for the same goal whilst convincing voters that the yellows are still a separate team.

More on this story